iPhone 5 Release Date: Features May Include NFC Alternative in Apple’s Future Smartphones, New Patent Reveals; Will Samsung, HTC, Google, Nokia Follow?
Prior to Apple's release of its iPhone 5 Sept. 21, some of the hottest rumors floating around the new smartphone concerned the possible inclusion of NFC technology. While that didn't pan out the way many thought it would, a new report today indicates we could be seeing something a lot like NFC on the iPhone in the future.
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NFC, or a near field communications chip, can communicate with scanners, and let consumers easily swipe and pay at cash registers. It's a short range, secure wireless technology that can be used to transfer data from one device to another. So far it's been used in smartphones to do things like transfer media, as well as let users pay for things by tapping their smartphone onto a terminal, which reads a user's credit card information. Everyone from Samsung, and HTC, to Google, and Nokia are currently running NFC chips in their devices.
So far, no Apple device includes NFC technology. However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple a patent for an NFC alternative technology covering the "method and apparatus for triggering network device discovery," as Patently Apple recently revealed.
The inventors of the patent for an NFC alternative technology, which was filed in 2009, are Patrick S. Piemonte, Ronald K. Huang, and Parin Patel.
Apple hasn't said much publicly about NFC, but the iPhone 5's Passbook feature was certainly positioned by the company as an alternative. Apple VP Phil Schiller said that Apple's Passbook feature, which can store items like boarding passes or loyalty cards, satisfied customer need just as well as NFC. In an interview with AllThingsD, he said it was not clear that NFC offered a solution to any current problem.
Plenty of phones out there offer NFC -- Google's Nexus S, HTC's Desire C -- but few if any are making use of the technology in the way that Apple intends to develop its Passbook app. You could make a strong argument it beats whatever kind of NFC is currently available in other smartphones.
The iPhone 5 chose Passbook over NFC, partly because many analysts, like Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee, argue the technology just isn't there yet, and that the chip hogs too much battery power.
The filing, titled "Method and apparatus for triggering network device discovery," offers a detailed explanation of the invention, which involves a method for network device discovery monitoring a compass output in a portable electronic device.
This is not the first patent to mention use of NFC technology, and its possible integration with a payment system. In August, Apple received a patent for "Motion based payment confirmation," which detailed several ways to help the user confirm that a mobile transaction had actually been completed from a mobile device like an iPhone or iPod.
A passage from the patent filing:
As the portable device and an external device come closer to each other, a magnetic field signature is computed based on the monitored compass output. A determination is then made as to whether the computed signature can be associated with or implies that a previously defined type of electronic device (with which a network device discovery process can be conducted) is in close proximity. In other words, as the two devices come closer to each other, their respective magnetic characteristics cause the compass output to change in a way that implies that a network device discovery process should be initiated between the two devices. The detected change in the compass output can be compared to one or more previously stored compass output patterns (magnetic field signatures). Each of these previous patterns may have been determined empirically or otherwise, to be the magnetic profile of a given type of external device that has come into proximity. A previous compass output pattern that best matches the newly detected compass output pattern is selected, and the device identification type or protocol information of the matching pattern is then used to perform a network device discovery process (using other signaling mechanisms). For example, if the detected compass output pattern matches that of a typical smart phone, then a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth setup protocol is initiated in the portable device.
Using the compass output in this manner to in effect prescreen another device, for purposes of establishing a communications connection whose setup is particularly involved or lengthy, may help make more efficient use of time and portable device resources. For instance, there is less power consumption and less network bandwidth consumption by the portable device, because the relatively complex Wi-Fi or Bluetooth setup process may be kept suspended until needed. In addition, the relatively fast trigger provided by monitoring compass output (and comparing to previously stored patterns) can give an early start to a relatively lengthy set up protocol (such as that of Bluetooth) which includes both device search and service discovery processes. This helps avoid having to wait for a timer to expire before starting to poll or search for an external device.
Will companies like Samsung, HTC, Google, and Nokia who utilize NFC in their smartphones follow suit and ditch NFC in favor an alternative like Apple? Or will we see some more app alternatives for NFC like Passbook on other devices? Only time will tell, but you can bet everyone else in the tech sector is taking close notice of Apple's patent filing.
Apple iPhone 5 Features
Height: 4.87 inches, Width: 2.31 inches, Depth: 0.30 inch, Weight: 3.95 ounces.
4-inch (diagonal) Retina display, 1136-by-640 resolution, 326 ppi, GSM model: GSM/EDGE, UMTS/HSPA+, DC-HSDPA, CDMA model: CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n; 802.11n on 2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and GLONASS, 1GB RAM, SoC: A6 Chip, Nano-SIM, three-axis gyro, dual-mic noise suppression, assisted GPS and GLONASS.
Front and back facing cameras:
Front: 1.2MP photos, 720p HD video, Backside illumination sensor;
Back: 8 megapixel Autofocus Tap to focus, LED flash, Backside illumination sensor, Five-element lens, Face detection, Hybrid IR filter, ƒ/2.4 aperture, Panorama,
Video: 1080p HD video recording, 30 fps, Tap to focus while recording, LED light, Improved video stabilization, Take still photos while recording video, Face detection.